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Could Gene Mutation Be the Next Doping?

Could Gene Mutation Be the Next Doping?

Posted - Aug. 25, 2004 at 5:41 p.m.



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Ed Yeates ReportingLet’s look beyond Athens to the games in Beijing four years from now. What new, exotic things will athletes try to enhance their performance?

At the Salk Institute in San Diego, a mouse runs faster and harder than any other mouse because he's been engineered with a gene that mimics exercise. Researchers have already identified a gene in some mountain climbers, which allows them to climb higher and higher with less oxygen than the rest of us need. Genes for other athletic talents most likely exist and might easily be identified - perhaps even mapped.

Dr. James Walker, TOSH Human Performance Lab: "So, if you can identify those kinds of people, put them in the right sports, who knows what the marathon record will be if we can direct people that way."

At The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, athletes learn more about strength and performance in world class research at TOSH's Human Performance Lab. This is all science US Olympic coaches and trainers can legitimately use to enhance a competitor's speed and strength.

But what about the gray areas? An enzyme that's not a drug but a blocker that blocks the ceiling for the generation of muscle mass.

Dr. James Walker: "You take this supplement and suddenly my ceiling for generating muscle mass is raised."

It's not on the IOC's list of "No No's" for now. But in human toxicology labs the people who actually get involved with drug testing - it really doesn't matter whether you're taking an enzyme or manipulating a gene - it still violates the rule.

Though gene modification such as that which occurred in the mouse would be hard to detect in an athlete.

Dennis Crouch, University of Utah Center for Human Toxicology: “Just the intent to do that is a violation. It’s also a violation to have those materials in your possession.”

Dr. Matthew Slawson, University of Utah Sports Medicine Research & Testing Lab: "Research still needs to be done on defining exactly what changes in the human physiology in taking these gene products - which can then be detected by means within a laboratory."

TOSH and the US Olympic Committee say research now is trying to focus athletes away from drugs to high performance through highly sophisticated nutrition. Out with the "dopings," in with the "diets."

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